Rock titans AC/DC are the masters of deception, or more accurately allowing the rest of the world to deceive itself.
They allow you to look for clues on what is going on while preparing to do something completely unexpected.
“Brian has been booted out” we were led to believe.
“Axl has joined the band” we maybe wanted to believe, following his successful period as stand-in frontman on the last tour.
All the while it was nothing of the sort and in reality, the band was actually getting back together and recording a new album.
Brian Johnson was most definitely there but also too, most surprisingly, was Phil Rudd.
Cliff Williams was back for more too.
Apparently, the guys reconnected with Rudd at Malcolm Young’s funeral, after the rhythm legend succumbed to the evils of dementia.
Nobody, and I mean nobody, saw Phil Rudd ever returning to the fold especially after his well-documented personal tribulations.
So with Angus Young at the helm as always and Stevie Young fulfilling the rhythm duties, it can be said that the band is as strong as it possibly could be.
It has been six years more or less since the release of Rock or Bust and an incredible 12 since Black Ice. Despite these two albums going multi-platinum worldwide, in my opinion they were both a bit AC/DC-by-numbers. They were on autopilot, almost devoid of ideas and running out of steam.
Power Up on the other hand just feels different. The buzz is back and the songs, more importantly, are stronger. Their mojo, thankfully, has returned.
The album was actually recorded in 2018, with some additional tweaking occurring in early 2019, and once again produced by Brendan O’Brien.
All tracks are credited to Angus and Malcolm Young as Angus raided the vaults for material recorded during Malcolm‘s lifetime.
Indeed, AC/DC view Power Up as a tribute to their fallen brother, which is possibly why it sounds so much more intense and relevant.
From the opening riffs of “Realize” it’s like the return of a friend you haven’t seen for years, although you’re a bit pissed that it’s taken so long to get in touch.
There are few tracks that stray from the blueprint of stomping riffs and chant-tastic vocals, but “Rejection” is one of them. It’s more bluesy and Johnson’s vocals are occasionally stretched beyond the norm.
Whilst on the subject of Brian Johnson, I feel he is singing better than for a long time. It doesn’t sound like he is singing through gritted teeth for a change and is on top form.
Check out the official video for “Shot in the Dark” below.
“Through the Mists of Time” is full of melody and is a medium-paced real toe-tapper. It’s a great track and a pleasure to listen to something which isn’t a fist-pumping nut-buster.
Having said that, there’s nothing like an AC/DC fist-pumping nut-buster, and “Kick You When You’re Down” delivers exactly that. The riffing is exquisite and Angus gives a short but cracking solo.
A “Givin’ the Dog a Bone” inspired intro welcomes us to “Witch’s Spell” where riffs and vocals trade blows to great effect. “Demon’s Fire” comes replete with choppy, stabbing licks and Johnson adds some gruff (yes, even gruffer) dirty-blues vocals.
“Wild Reputation” is one of the simpler tracks, but this simplicity is done superbly well. With a rhythm section as tight as a Scotsman at the bar at Christmas this is three minutes of rock in its purest form.
The heaviness is ramped up on “No Man’s Land” which doesn’t set the world alight but is solid enough. “Systems Down” is classic AC/DC fayre. Foot-stomping, fist-waving lyrics and vocals are underpinned with solid as a rock riffs and a cool Angus solo tops it off. Who would want any more?
“Money Shot” reminded me of the Fly on the Wall days, OK but fairly unremarkable.
The same can be said of finisher “Code Red” so a bit of an inauspicious ending to what is a cracking record.
I am tempted to say that this a return to form but form never really left AC/DC. Form was always there but Power Up is simply a better record than its recent predecessors. It has more feel, more intent and more depth. Highly recommended
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